2017 Marks 25 Years of the Honda Fireblade – The Superbike that redefined Motorcycling
Some legends of the motorcycling world are like fragrances that you can never have enough of. They are like the stories that never lose their charm. This is one of the reasons why we have an incredible respect for Honda. The motorcycle maker is much more than the Honda Cub. Even though the world is jam packed of Honda commuters, this Japanese behemoth has a thing or two to teach us how to redefine performance rules in the world. We have already discussed the legend of Honda CB750 and the advent of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle after it. And then in 1992, the Honda CBR900RR repeated the history. 2017 marks the 25 years of the Fireblade and what better moment it is to talk about this motorcycle that redefined sportsbikes forever.
By the time fame of the UJM’s waned off in early 80s, they had managed to take motorcycling further into specialized products. People now wanted tourers, ADVs, street nakeds and above anything else, race replica sportsbikes. From those times onwards for about a decade and a half, sportsbikes that ruled the market were heavy (mostly above 200kg) beasts that could do straight line monstrosities but weren’t exactly corner carvers. Honda itself had some heavy weight V4 powered models that served as sport tourers. But, then Tadao Baba decided that things should change. And, in 1992 the first generation Honda CBR900RR arrived and brought a tectonic shift into the world of sportsbikes.
1992 – First-Generation Fireblade – The Beginning:
Tadao Baba, a Japanese Motorcycle Engineer, was obsessed with weight savings. He had used the best of computer technologies available at the time to create what would become an instant icon. The bike was called ‘Honda FireBlade’, a miss-translation of the word ‘lightning’ into Japanese. Honda’s Fireblade CBR900RR came along in 1992 to crush everyone’s expectations of what a superbike should be like. It also changed the way world knew who to make a sportsbike as well.
When the Honda CBR900RR was unveiled, it had a controversial engine displacement. Back in the times when every manufacturer was making bikes that comply with the 750cc WSBK capacity, the CBR900RR came with an 893cc in-line four engine that could not be raced anywhere. Baba believed that ‘Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday’ wasn’t necessarily the best way to sell sportsbikes. He argued that if the “blade was better than everything else out there, riders would still come and buy it on the basis of its road success and not race heritage.
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And, Tadao’s confidence was proven right, the 893cc powered CBR900RR went on to become a sales juggernaut and earned the reputation of the ultimate sportsbike of the 90s. It was a particular long-sightedness of Baba and his belief in the idea that made the Honda FireBlade the success it became, even when Honda had actually tested a 749cc Fireblade as well.
And, what an idea it was, Honda had concentrated on making the bike as light as possible instead of adding more power to it. This also translated into handling characteristics that simply threw the ball out of the court for its rivals. Saying that, the 1992 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade was no weak product either, 122bhp from its 893cc powerplant were more than enough, and would still be. With a weight that was almost 34kg lighter than the next lightest bike in the segment, the Honda Fireblade boasted of an unprecedented power-to-weight ratio for the segment. In fact, the Honda CBR900RR Fireblade was so far from anyone’s reach that it took Yamaha six years to beat the CBR with its R1. But by the time that happened, the CBR900RR was already a legend too big to fall.
1994 – Second-Generation Fireblade:
Even though the CBR had no rival in sight, Honda continued to develop it and in 1994, just two years after the first ever Fireblade came along, the second-generation Fireblade had arrived. The 1994 CBR900RR had much better engine efficiency while also having a fully adjustable front fork with superior road-holding ability. This was a rather fast response from Honda regarding the bikes lively front end ‘issue’. Most of the Honda Fireblade’s customers were not used to the Blade’s agility and many were left a little distressed. The 1994 Fireblade also brought with it, probably the coolest paint scheme – the 1994 Urban Tiger, of the motorcycle world. If that is not all, that iconic ‘Foxeye’ headlight design also came along as well.
1996 – Third-Generation Fireblade:
Just four years after it was first unveiled, the ‘Blade received its first major update. Honda had understood that the Public has started to be wary of the previous Blade’s mental nature. Thus the new bike arrived with a softer nature and enhanced practicality. To let the riders have better leg room, the seat height was increased by 10mm and a larger fairing gave better wind protection. The new twin-spar chassis looked similar to the 92-95 models, but was not even lighter and offered optimized rigidity. New design of the fuel tank and changes in riding position further resulted into the already sublime bike getting much better handling.
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1998 – Fourth Generation Fireblade:
This brought with it a redesign of almost 80 percent of the parts for the new bike. The team’s target of further weight reduction was concentrated even to the level of a single bolt. This meant the dry weight was just 180 kg. This further enhanced the dynamic performance of the ‘Blade as well.
2000 – Fifth-Generation Fireblade:
For the first time since 1992, the engine of the Fireblade went through a thorough redesign with the arrival of the new millennia.
2002 – Sixth-generation Fireblade:
A decade after it came and changed sportsbike world forever, the CBR900RR in its Sixth-Generation was the last time the series wore the iconic name CBR900RR. The last 900RR ‘Blade was a 954cc that made 150.9Ps.
2004 – Seventh Generation Fireblade:
This is where the true philosophy of the Honda Fireblade, started to diminish. Baba was no longer at the helm of the things. As on ode to his iconic work, the 2004 CBR1000RR Fireblade replaced its capital B in the name with a lowercase b. Now under the control of Honda’s same team that took care of the MotoGP project, the 2004 Fireblade had a chassis which was stronger than before. It also had sharper handling and came equipped with the Unit Pro-Link swingarm suspension straight from the GP racer. You also had an electronic steering damper, radial brakes and an under-seat pipe at your disposal. However, the Fireblade still felt lethargic in front of the zippy R1 and the absolutely bonkers ZX-10R.
Sadly the next Honda Fireblade in its Eight-Generation in 2006 still wasn’t enough to beat its rivals in their game.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7omyUFdnveE]Video Courtesy – Super Streetbike Magazine
2008 – Ninth Generation Fireblade:
An all new bike made from grounds up came in 2008, with a controversial design and blew the competition away to become the best ‘all-round’ liter bike. The absolute performance of the new bike that no longer had the iconic under-seat exhaust was exceptional. It was more agile, sleeker and its engine had titanium inlet valves, forged pistons and electro-plating to increase the power to 175bhp.
The Next two generations of the Fireblade continued to add some of the best rider and safety aids to the iconic motorcycle.
2012 – Twelfth-Generation Fireblade:
To celebrate its 20th Anniversary, Honda designed the 2012 CBR1000RR Fireblade with a focus on the handling ease. The resulting bike was something that reached a new level of maturity.
In 2014 for its thirteenth generation model, the Honda Fireblade got its first ever SP model that offered added performance over the standard bike. The standard bike also got additional power, improved rider aids and a new windscreen.
2017 – Fourteenth-Generation Fireblade – 25 years of being an Icon:
The 2017 Honda CBR 1000RR Fireblade has not just donned a new, much striking and contemporary, skin but also got a number of important updates as well. Honda updated its flagship CBR with throttle-by-wire that works with selectable ride modes. On the SP model, you get a revised frame and fuel tank made of Titanium and a 13:1 compression ratio.
Rest assured, the story of the Fireblade will continue to unfold in the coming years. We eagerly await Honda’s all new designed from scratch Fireblade that everyone knows will arrive sooner than later.